By Alberto Smith, Interim Chief Strategy Officer, Make Votes Matter. This piece first appeared in Nation.Cymru on 9th July 2024.

As with every election, on Thursday millions of us went to the polls to have our say on which people with which policies will represent us in Parliament for the next four-to-five years. Yet in many other ways, this election was different, not least in how much the results conceal the reality of our votes.

This was the most disproportional UK general election in history, with nearly 6 in 10 voters not getting an MP they voted for, comfortably the highest number ever for a UK general election. From next week, we will have a Parliament more out of step with the views and preferences of the electorate than ever before. 

More voters than ever turned their back on the two main parties whose duopoly underpins First Past the Post. The share of the vote going to Labour or the Conservatives was a combined 57.6%, an all-time low, and the latest rung – 2017 and 2019 aside – in what has been a pronounced downward trend. The public are increasingly resisting the idea that they can be divided into two narrow camps, so why doesn’t our politics reflect that?

Nothing is more emblematic of this mismatch than Labour’s change in fortunes. In 2019, Labour were widely felt to have had one of their ‘worst ever performances’, securing only 203 seats. Whereas in 2024, many have described Labour’s 412 seats as among their ‘best ever’ results. This, despite receiving 500,000 votes less in 2024 than in 2019. In Wales, the same dynamic was in evidence: Labour won 84% of seats in Wales on only 37% of the vote, a 4-point drop in vote share from 2019. 

The point is this: under First Past the Post, some people’s votes have more impact than others’. When measured using the Gallagher Index, (which assesses how well the make-up of Parliament reflects the way the country voted, with a number close to 0 indicating a more proportional result) this election scored 24. Even by the standards of our deliberately distortive system, this is unprecedented. Indeed, the only election in any advanced democracy ever to top this level of disproportionality was the French legislative election in 1993. 

A Parliament this out of step with the views of those it serves, even in isolation, represents an egregious example of system failure. But  it comes at a time, according to the National Centre for Social Research, when 45% of people say they ‘almost never’ trust the government – to borrow a phrase – to ‘put country before party’. 

Our new government assumes unbridled power with the support of merely 1 in 3 voters, a risible claim to a clear mandate which only gets thinner when you consider 4 in 10 registered voters chose not to vote, and a further 7-9 million (estimates vary) eligible voters were not even registered. With the vast majority of people’s views unrepresented in government, First Past the Post risks exacerbating the crisis of trust in politics by manufacturing a consensus behind the new direction of travel where none exists.

To avoid this trap, what has been dubbed as the ‘change election’ must deliver lasting change to the way politics is done, not simply passing change in the personnel at the top. Without giving the public the ability to positively engage in politics as equals, wherever we live and whomever we vote for, we risk trust in politics remaining at record-lows,  undermining further aspects of our democracy and creating a crisis of confidence in more of our institutions. Elections should fuel a cycle of trust in politics through facilitating real agency, debate and engagement, not become a source of frustration in and of themselves. 

Labour campaigned on a principled drive for the restoration of stability and trust in politics. As the beneficiaries on this occasion of the volatility and disproportionality driven by the voting system, it’s now time for Labour to make good on that promise and take action to address rock-bottom trust in our politics. The public demand for change is clear: 54% of people back a change to the voting system. The Labour Party membership and unions have also repeatedly signalled their support for Proportional Representation (PR), and there is a strong cross-party consensus on the need for change.

This election result pulls back the curtain on the damage our broken voting system is doing  to representation and engagement in politics. It’s time to reset our political system by ensuring that at the next election everyone has an equal voice, vote and stake in our politics. PR’s time has come.